India: Muslim women bear the brunt of digital divorce

The situation is grim in India, where many face an instantaneous end to their marriage for very petty reasons through phone, social media or e-mail, or Whatsapp.

Reasons for divorce: wearing sun-glasses or not adding enough salt to the food

Published: 16:13 September 2, 2015Gulf News

By Gagandeep Kaur, Special to Weekend Review

Nishat Fatima (name changed), 30, was still dwelling on a minor tiff with her husband about moving to a different part of the city when she received a call from him. Smiling, she assumed that the argument had been resolved. However, all her husband said on the phone was talaq, talaq, talaq before disconnecting the call and ending their marriage of five years.

Much to her shock, Fatima discovered over the next few months that the short and cryptic divorce delivered over the phone was actually valid. She is yet to come to terms with her divorce and finds it hard to believe that her husband could walk away from their marriage without any explanation whatsoever.

“It is not fair. Now I have to single-handedly bring up our three-year-old daughter while he can easily get married again,” says a crestfallen Fatima.

She is not alone. Though there are no statistics, experts believe that there has been a significant increase in the number of digital divorces in the Muslim community of late. Instantaneous and extremely impersonal, these divorces can happen for any insignificant reason, from wearing spectacles to not adding enough salt in food. The validity of these divorces implies that the Muslim women have to forever live under a cloud of anxiety and apprehension.

“The number of such cases has significantly increased in the last few years and most of them are without any valid reason,” says Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founding member of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). With nearly 50,000 members in 11 states in India, BMMA is working on many fronts, such as education and personal law, for the upliftment of Muslim women.

Experts believe that Muslim laws not being codified or fortified in India makes it possible for Muslim men to get away with divorcing their wives at the drop of a hat.

“What this means is that in all practical terms there is no law. Any maulana can interpret it to the convenience of anyone. This is the main reason that Muslim men can get away with almost anything because they can always find a maulana to give a verdict in their favour,” says Niaz.

Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz

BMMA came up with a draft Muslim Law last year, which it claims accords with the intent of the Quran. According to this draft, verbal divorce is not in keeping with the spirit of Islam.

“The draft does away with the practice of verbal divorce since it is not in keeping with the spirit of Islam. According to Islam, verbal divorce is [delivered] over a period of three months during which both parties get time to think of its consequences and they have time to change their decision. Other salient features of the draft include the minimum age of girls at the time of marriage should be 18 years and for boys, 21 years. ‘Meher’ at the time of wedding should be the annual income of the groom,” says Niaz.

The draft laws were prepared after collating inputs from all the stakeholders of the Muslim community, particularly women from seven states, which highlights the strong demand from the community to change the oppressive laws.

According to Sharia or the Muslim Personal Law, verbal divorce takes place over a period of three months, thus giving both parties enough time to reconsider their decision and to understand the consequences of divorce. Further, according to the Muslim law, there is a provision to counsel both parties in order to resolve their differences.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board corroborates this. “We strongly and very clearly assert that divorce through digital media such as e-mail, Facebook or WhatsApp is not enforceable in the court of law. Islam and the Muslim Personal Law do not recognise this kind of practice,” says advocate Abdul Rahim Quraishi, assistant general secretary at the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

“There are various safeguards to prevent a divorce in Islam. It is only when there’s no option that divorce is allowed. A number of divorces in the community are happening for petty reasons. We strongly discourage this and feel that minor fights do happen in every household and they should not lead to divorce,” says Quraishi.

While it has always been somewhat easy for Muslim men to divorce their wives, the use of digital medium makes it almost instantaneous. In both forms of divorce there is a period, iddat, during which the woman can claim nafaqah or maintenance. However, women do not have a chance to contest the validity of the divorce. They just have to accept their fate.

It is not just Indian Muslim women who are suffering. In some countries in the Middle East and Malaysia, mobile devices have been used to end marriages by simply texting talaq, talaq, talaq. And before the advent of mobile devices, there were instances when telephone calls, snail mail and even telegrams were used to communicate divorce.

The other point of view is that technology is just a means of communication so it doesn’t matter whether a divorce is expressed personally or through Facebook, e-mail or Skype. However, the ease of such methods has increased the instances of divorce. Moreover, with no means to question divorce, Muslim women are at the receiving end.

Legal haziness

Mumbai-based Zeenat Parveen Ansari, 39, is one of the few women in the country who was divorced through WhatsApp.

“It was a second marriage for my husband as well, who already has a wife and two children. His first wife threatened that unless he divorced me, she would leave him along with her children. So he just sent me a message on WhatsApp with talaq written three times,” says Ansari.

Ansari, who has two sons from a previous marriage, runs a bakery in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar area. However, it was not second time lucky for her. Today, she is fighting a legal battle disputing the validity of the WhatsApp divorce. She is fighting her case in the courts as she had a registered marriage in a court with two witnesses from both sides.

What complicates the situation for her is that nobody is sure about the status of the divorce. Ansari believes that since she got married in court as well as in a religious ceremony, the flimsy manner in which she was divorced cannot be valid. Clearly, there is a strong need to reinterpret Muslim Personal Law to deal with the digital imbroglio.

India needs to take the brave step of discontinuing with this practice as most of the Muslim countries have done away with the practice of triple talaq.

“Muslim women’s voice is loud and clear. The state and the clergy have to listen to them. At least they should come forward and debate. The fortified law should be based on Islam and not otherwise,” says Niaz.

Their fight got a major boost with a committee under Ministry of Women and Child Development recommending that the government should ban triple talaq. The report says the practice “makes wives extremely vulnerable and insecure regarding their marital status”. The ministry will now need to hold consultations with various religious groups before taking the final decision.

Muslim leaders should clear the ambiguity surrounding digital divorce so that the women of the community do not have suffer any longer or endure the consequences of a divorce for unjustifiable reasons.

Gagandeep Kaur is an independent journalist based in New Delhi. You can follow her on Twitter @Gagandeepjourno

Categories: Asia, India

6 replies

  1. Muslim women should be treated on par with Hindu women in India in matters of Marriage.Indian Law is highly sympathetical to women. Arabian Law should be banished from India and the marriage of Muslim women must get the protection of Judiciary on par with HINDU women.Any system based on Islam would be useless. It will be like a wine in a old bottle.

  2. new ageislam web
    Page No.1

    Triple Talaq: The Qur’an Does Not Prescribe This Form of Divorce At All

    By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam

    Talaq, talaq, talaq — the three dreaded words — if uttered by a husband in quick succession could, in less than a blink of an eye, unilaterally bring to an end the marital life of a Muslim woman. However, in what may come as a shock to numerous Muslims and others, the Qur’an does not prescribe this form of divorce at all.

    In fact, the Qur’an has specifically laid down a formula of a three-tiered calibrated divorce, keeping in mind human frailties. The first two stages give an opportunity to the estranged couple to reconsider their decision and, if possible, reconcile and resume their married relationship.

    But it is only the third and last step, if traversed that would make the talaq irrevocable. Therefore, the most important injunction in the Qur’an, in this regard, is that after each pronouncement of talaq there has to be compulsorily a period of waiting or iddat that provides a timeout to reflect on the alternatives to a divorce.

    And, neither the uttering of talaq, talaq, talaq in one sentence nor a single pronouncement to indicate an intention of irrevocably dissolving the marriage had the approval of Prophet Muhammad.

    There are two hadith (narrations of sayings of the Prophet) in ‘Divorce (Kitab Al Talaq)’ of Sunan Abu Dawud.

    Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: Abdu Yazid, the father of Rukanah and his brothers, divorced Umm Rukanah and married a woman of the tribe of Muzaynah. She went to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and said: He is of no use to me except that he is as useful to me as a hair; and she took a hair from her head. So separate me from him. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) became furious. He called on Rukanah and his brothers. He then said to those who were sitting beside him. Do you see so-and-so who resembles Abdu Yazid in respect of so-and-so; and so-and-so who resembles him in respect of so-and-so? They replied: Yes. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said to Abdu Yazid: Divorce her. Then he did so. He said: Take your wife, the mother of Rukanah and his brothers, back in marriage. He said: I have divorced her by three pronouncements, Apostle of Allah. He said: I know: take her back. He then recited the verse: “O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them at their appointed periods.” (2191)

  3. page No.2
    Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: Tawus said: Abus Sahba’ said to Ibn Abbas:” Do you know that a divorce by three pronouncements was made a single one during the time of the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him), and of AbuBakr and in the early days of the caliphate of Umar? “ “He replied: Yes”.( 2194)

    Hence, the triple talaq in one sitting is called talaq-ul-biddat — a heretical talaq. The triple talaq, which Muslims are made to believe is based on divine revelation, is nothing but a man-made legal evasion created by a pliant Muslim clergy during the second century of the Muhammadan era.

    It is really tragic that a dubious organization parading itself as a champion of women’s rights has engineered a malicious campaign to project the Indian Muslim community in bad light .triple talaq is a non issue and it is being used as a ploy by vested interests to cover their inadequacy to some of the pressing problems of the Muslim women who have been denied access to most of the state promoted socio economic programmes for the uplift of the poor . Feminists across the country are talking about the “rights” and “wrongs” for women in a furious social media war, instead of joining forces to try to address the real issues that women and girls face . In offering support to Muslim women, all feminists need to be strategic and prioritise the harm those women actually suffer. Feminists from the majority community would do well to reconsider the disproportionate weight they are giving to non issues…

    We don’t have to personally visit places to see the face of the demeaning levels of poverty and destitution women suffer. Newspapers and media are blaring day in and day out the plight of these women who in many cases suffer worst indignities at the hands of exploiters and marauders .Thousands of women have been displaced and espo9sed to worse sexual turpitudes in riot after riot. Sadly this ghastly and tragedies fail to stir the nation’s ‘conscience .And suddenly a small survey, whose credibility has still to be verified suddenly screams from the top pages of newspapers.. . We can have no better description than the one pained by the legendary poet Allama Iqbal in his stirring verse:

    The pangs of motherhood have torn her heart,

    Dark, tragic rings have underscored her eyes

    ;If from her bosom the community

    Receive one Muslim zealous for the Faith,

    God’s faithful servant, all the pains she bore

    Have fortified our being, and our dawn

  4. page No.3
    Muslims are open to clarification of some of the Quranic verses which appear to have an apparent bias against women on account of variant reading but which in truth are safeguards for peaceful family life..There is one verse in Qur’an which has given rise to debates on the position of women in the Islamic schema. But most of the misconceptions have veered around the semantics of interpretation and have not tried to analyze the verse in the light of the philosophy of the Qur’ān which is an organically related text and has a textual unity. The Qur’an forbids citation of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and hadith teach. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry-pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and hadith. The Qur’an contains five sentences, which human rights activists say create a cultural climate that excuses violence against women and Islamic scholars say encourages respectful behavior, not abuse:

    “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women. Because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, (1) Admonish them, (2) refuse to share their beds, (3) beat them; but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of annoyance: For Allah is Most High, Great. (4) If you fear a break between them, appoint two arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation”(Q 4:34-35).

    This phrae ,”beat them”(waḍribūhunna) has presented a challenge to many in terms of explanations. For others it has afforded an opportunity to describe Islam as a misogynistic religion that sanctions wife-abuse by referring to either a literal translation of the word without considering the context or by referring to the translations of Muslim scholars who translate it is a ‘to hit’, but the fact that these scholars also refer to the ‘hitting’ as symbolic, is also ignored. Hence the explanation put forward is usually a ‘half-truth’ or an intentional misrepresentation of Qur’anic injunctions towards women Classical scholars such as At-Tabari and Ar-Razi both viewed 4:34 as a staged way to reduce marital conflicts in a culture where violence against women was rampant. At-Tabari went on to note that waḍribuhunna means striking without hurting. But Ar-Razi did not even allow that in his exegesis. He quoted Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as stating that men who hit their wives are not among the better men.

    Treating women with the inherent dignity that she was created with, ensuring that their rights are preserved and advocating that they are given equitable opportunities to succeed is necessary to uphold the Qur’anic vision, “O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding justice,” (Q4:135). The way forward requires leveling the playing field, by changing hearts and minds, if possible, or by instituting affirmative actions, when antiquated cultural norms prove too intransigent

  5. page No.4Next, verse 4:34 employs the process of anger management, reformation and reconciliation. This process may only be employed after a wife has initially and deliberately undermined or attempted to destroy the family, as indicated by the words, “as for those on whose part you fear disobedience.” But “disobedience” does not mean any random disagreement a wife may have with her husband. Arabic lexicon provides the correct understanding as that of a wife who has deserted her husband altogether or has unjustly attempted to destroy the family. Once a wife deliberately engages in this form of behavior, then the Qur’an describes a process to peacefully reconcile the dispute.

    The first step, anger management, obliges the husband to merely admonish his wife of his concern, essentially encouraging the parties to admit that a problem exists. This forces a man to strictly control himself in hopes that his wife will also incline to reconciliation. Should this fail, the second step is separating beds for up to four months. This act further diminishes the chances of domestic violence, as a man physically separates himself from the emotionally charged situation for an extended period of time. If the wife engaged in an action to which the husband over reacted, then his extended time apart will help him realize the foolishness of his own behavior. Likewise, if the wife indeed engaged in an improper act, then her husband’s separation will encourage her to realize the unreasonableness of her behavior. Either way, this step avoids violence altogether while actively promoting reconciliation.

    Employed effectively, these two steps help reconcile the vast majority of domestic disputes. Should the first two steps fail, however, the Qur’an allows — never commands — men to consider the third step, translated as “to chastise them.” But to understand “chastise” as sanctioning violence ignores the lengthy process employed in the first two steps to eliminate violence, the proper meaning and scope of “chastise,” and the precedent of peaceful reconciliation Prophet Muhammad himself established.

    t is only after the failure of the four reconciliation attempts that the Qur’an allows the first talaq to be pronounced, followed by a waiting period called iddah (2:228-232 and 65:1-4). Not more than two divorces can be pronounced within this period, the duration of which is three menstrual cycles (2:228-229). For women who have attained menopause or suffer from amenorrhoea, iddah is three months, and in the case of pregnant women it is till the termination of pregnancy (65:4).

    If the parties are unable to unite during iddah, the final irrevocable talaq can be pronounced, but only after the expiry of iddah (2:231). Once the final talaq is invoked, the marital bond stands severed and the spouses cease to be of any relation to each other. However, even after the lapse of iddah, the Qur’an offers the disputants a chance to reunite, provided the final talaq has not been pronounced. It says, “When you divorce women and they complete their term [iddah], do not prevent them from marrying their [former] husbands if they mutually agree on equitable terms” (2:232). In other words, after the expiry of iddah, as per 2:231, 232, the parties are given the options of re-contracting the marriage on fresh terms, or seek permanent separation — the separation being the third and the final irrevocable talaq to be pronounced in the presence of two witnesses (65:2) within a reasonable period of time.

    It is astonishing that despite the clarity of the Qur’an on the issue of divorce, the Muslim patriarchy has stubbornly refused to adopt the Qur’anic procedure. Because of this, courts in India are forced to uphold the validity of triple talaq on the principle of stare decisis, declaring the practice to be “good in law though bad in theology.” The precedent cited is the Privy Council judgment in the case of Aga Mohammad Jaffer vs Koolsom Beebee [(1897) 25 Cal. 9, 18, 24, IA. 196, 204], wherein it was held that it would be wrong for the courts to put their own construction on the Qur’an in opposition to the express ruling of commentators of “such antiquity and high authority.”

  6. Thank you for publishing the entire article.Newageislam is the source of my knowledge of Islam. For all Muslims it is a tremendous source of knowledge and light.

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